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Rose Batts Celebrates 99 Years

Family and friends help Rose Batts mark 99 years.

Seated next to an enormous vase of multicolored carnations, Rose Batts beams.

She beams with pride for her grandson, working in Italy, who sent the flowers for her birthday. She beams when remembering her parents. She beams when her son, whom she affectionately calls Skipper, enters the room. When he urges her to demonstrate how well she can still walk, without the use of a cane, she takes his arm and smiles brightly while walking around the cream-colored living room.

The family members gathered around her have reason to adore and revel in Batts as well. This is her 99th birthday party.

"I am blessed, I really am," said Batts, in her son's Crosspointe home on Friday, Aug. 24.

The only evidence of her age is the occasional pain in her knees, which she remedies with mustard. That, combined with her love of dill pickles that she eats daily, are her secrets to longevity, she thinks.

Batts grew up in Portsmouth, Va., in a church-going family that was untouched by the Depression.

"I really didn't know things were that bad for other people," she said, pointing to a photograph of a woman dressed in a fur coat.

Her first marriage, to Cecil Johnson in 1932, lasted for five years, until his death. She married Lee Batts in 1945, and they lived together happily for 55 years until he died.

Batt's sister, Thomasine Pruitt, said her husbands, who took good care of her and provided nice homes, spoiled her sister.

"Her second husband, who I called brother, was the chief steward for the mess hall at the naval base and whatever the captains had for dinner, he'd bring home for her every day," Pruitt said. "She was spoiled purple."

THE SISTERS are very close, despite the 24-year gap between them. Batts took in her sister and raised her after their mother died when Batts was 16, and Pruitt said her sister taught everything.

"Life has been so good to us," Pruitt said.

Batts had a hand in Pruitt's marriage to Richard Pruitt, her sister said.

"Rose recognized before I did that Richard was a good catch," Pruitt said. "She started hounding him, asking when he was going to ask me to marry him. I thought she'd scare him away," she laughed.

Now a resident of Westerville, Ohio, Pruitt and her sister don't get to see each other much, but the lapsed time melts away when they are together.

Looking at albums of family photos, Pruitt points out an Easter Sunday from decades ago and said people used to wait for Batts to come into the church to see what she was wearing.

"She's always been the best dresser in town," Pruitt said.

Batts was a leader in other ways, including as one of the first graduates from Virginia State Normal School, which eventually became Virginia State College. Batts worked as a teacher for several years, despite studying business in college, and later taught her sister how to type and helped her through college.

In her younger days, Batts made frequent trips to New York City to enjoy jazz performances, including those by Count Bassey and Cab Calloway.

These days, she's more likely to be found at a pinochle table, winning hand after hand with a grin.

"She cheats," said her son, Lee. "Don't let her fool you. She cheats."

His mother has "always been an inspiration," Lee Batts said. "She was always making sure I did what was right and that my father knew if I didn't. She's a beautiful and caring person, very special."

Zelda Batts, Rose's daughter-in-law, said the biggest blessing for the family is Rose's sharp mind.

"She's a novelty and we just love her," Zelda Batts said. "She's gone to Irving (Middle School in Springfield) a few times to answer questions about what he life has been like, and the students are just fascinated."

Rose Batts is equally proud of her daughter-in-law.

"I thank God my son found such a good wife," Rose Batts said.

NOW THAT she has moved to an apartment complex for adults in Kingstowne, Batts attends Antioch Baptist Church with Lee and Zelda each weekend.

Alonzo Coombs, one of Rose's nephews, made the trip to Fairfax Station from Orange County, N.Y. for the birthday party.

"I want to be like her when I grow up," he joked. "Her house is where I escaped to when I ran away from home. Aunt Rose and Uncle Lee took me and for 11 months and made me feel at home."

With two grandsons, one granddaughter, six great-grandchildren and one more expected this fall, Rose Batts' influence on the future will be wide-reaching for generations.

When asked what advice she'd like to leave those children, the answer is simple and rhyming.

"If a task is once begun, do not rest until it is done," she said. Another favorite is "Be it labor great or small, do not start or do it all."

She hopes her great-grandchildren will grow up knowing the importance of reading the Bible and following the Ten Commandments.

"Each morning I wake up and ask the Lord to take my hand," she said.